May 17, 2022

Grote plant-based meat and cheese slicer equipmentAny way you cut it, plant-based foods are here to stay. And, while billions of dollars have been spent making sure consumers find these products almost indistinguishable from the “real” thing, food processors looking to expand into or scale up plant-based meat and cheese slicer equipment need to be aware of some important differences.

While much of the equipment used to slice traditional foods like pepperoni, deli meats, or cheeses and plant-based substitutes are the same, successful slicing of these products may require: 

  • Different blades
  • Handling temperatures, and 
  • Machinery specs

Let’s take a look at some of the key differences between plant-based and traditional products, and how experienced industry players handle them. 

Same But Different

Plant-based substitutes are now available for a range of products including:

  • Pepperoni
  • Bacon
  • Jerky
  • Deli-sliced foods including turkey, hams, and cheeses

These can usually be bulk sliced or shingled on the same machinery typically used to cut traditional meats and cheeses, but to ensure quality and consistency, it is important to be aware of what makes plant-based products different and how to adjust accordingly.

Product Composition and Density

Meat and cheese substitutes make use of soy, wheat gluten, mushroom, and even coconut to mimic the “real” foods. While the product is obviously similar, density and composition does vary from the original. Substitute meats tend to be softer than animal products and plant-based cheeses are generally harder than dairy-based.

As a result, substitute meats tend to be processed at a slightly colder temperature than traditional meats. This helps them maintain their consistency during slicing. Plant-based cheeses can usually be sliced at the same temperature as dairy products.

Tempering

As with traditional product, ideal slicing temperature for plant-based products is achieved by tempering food, normally simply by removing food from a freezer or refrigerator and letting it sit at room temperature for a predetermined time (in line with health requirements).

Many established processors also use dedicated coolers that maintain food at the ideal temperature ready for processing. This allows product to be pulled out of the cooler and loaded directly into the slicing machine, improving efficiency and ensuring food safety.

Regardless of how it's achieved, tempering must be considered when investing in slicing and other automation equipment. 

Blades

Matching the correct slicer blades to plant-based products is also important in ensuring quality and consistency. High-speed continuous band blades are ideal for meat and cheese substitutes, because of their ability to slice delicate products thinly and cleanly.

And, while traditional animal-based pepperoni and jerky are cut with v-shaped toothed blades because of their density and hardness, processors turn to smooth knife-edged blades to slice the softer plant-based meat counterparts, in addition to cheese substitutes.

Lubrication

Meats and cheeses vary widely in the amount of natural oil and greases they contain. Plant-based meats in particular are typically less oily or greasy than animal products. Cheeses, both dairy and plant-based, contain less grease than meats, but oiliness can vary widely between hard and soft cheeses and their substitutes.

Bulk slicers often include a lubrication system that uses water and sometimes oil to stop slices from sticking together after cutting. This is particularly important for machines handling plant-based meats because of their lower oil or grease contents.

Similar lubrication systems are already common on machines handling both traditional and plant-based cheeses.

When evaluating slicers, ask suppliers about a “non-stick” package that reduces product touch points, preventing logs from adhering to product holders or other contact surfaces.

The Right Plant-Based Meat and Cheese Slicer for the Job

Grote plant-based meat and cheese slicer equipment

While many established processors may have the ability to adjust slicing equipment to accommodate plant-based substitutes, new operators, in particular, can be caught unprepared and become quickly overwhelmed, forcing them to turn to expensive copackers to meet their obligations.

Working with an established OEM can help you optimize equipment and procedures to match your needs as you transition to the plant-based future.

Look for a partner that will:

  • Demo your exact product and operating conditions
  • Test various settings and adjustments to find optimal operation
  • Recommend any temperature or tempering adjustments
  • Identify ideal product sizes and production rates
  • Share other processing improvement recommendations based on experience

This partnership and full view of your processing operation can help prevent serious oversights, unplanned downtime, poor quality slices, product yield loss, and a world of harm to your machinery, including broken band blades, sheared bolts, and damaged guides.

Installing the right meat and cheese slicer equipment can help increase production, get more orders, and increase efficiency. With industrial food processing machinery, as with plant-based foods, small changes can make a big difference — any way you slice it!


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